University of Central Florida Receives 2020 HEED Award for Outstanding Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion

By  //  September 8, 2020

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recognized for Excellence in Diversity

UCF was named among the 2020 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award recipients by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, which recognizes U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.

UCF was named among the 2020 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award recipients by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, which recognizes U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.

This is the sixth year UCF has been a recipient.

UCF was selected along with 90 other colleges because of the university’s commitment to inclusive student recruitment, retention and completion; programming, initiatives and outreach; and hiring practices.

“At UCF, diversity and inclusivity are essential to our excellence, and our focus remains on helping all of our students realize their full potential,” says President Alexander N. Cartwright. “As our student body becomes more diverse, we are committed to ensuring that our students succeed and graduate, improving social and economic mobility in our community and across the nation.”

As a result of this focus, UCF was recognized by Diverse Issues in Higher Education in 2019 for graduating the fourth-highest number of minorities in the nation, ranking fifth for Black students and sixth for Hispanic students in bachelor’s degrees conferred. Overall, ethnic minorities make up 49.7 percent of UCF’s undergraduate student population, and in 2019, the U.S. Department of Education designated the university a Hispanic Serving Institution after having exceeded a 25 percent enrollment of Hispanic undergraduate students.

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UCF was also one of only three universities named a finalist in the APLU’s 2019 Degree Completion Award for efforts to address disparity between retention and graduation rates of Black and Hispanic students and their white counterparts. In 2018, the six-year graduation rate gap between Hispanic first-time in college (FTIC) students at UCF and their white counterparts was less than one percentage point, compared to the 11.8 percentage point difference nationally. It was 3.7 percentage points for Black FTICs, compared with s 23.5 percentage point difference nationally.

Fostering a Sense of Belonging

To cultivate a sense of belonging for all students, UCF offers a number of programs, initiatives and resources, ranging from gender-neutral bathrooms on campus and same-sex partner healthcare benefits for employees to safe spaces for religious prayer and mental health counselors specifically trained to support individuals with diverse backgrounds.

In addition to hosting U.S. Department of Education TRIO Programs, which serve first-generation and low-income middle school, high school and college students, UCF offers the McNair Scholars Program to prepare undergraduate students from low-income, first-generation and traditionally underrepresented groups for doctoral studies as well as the Holmes Scholar Program for doctoral students.

The university houses offices dedicated to accessibility services, diversity and inclusion, international students, LGBTQ+ students, multicultural affairs and veterans.

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In 2019, the Campus Pride Index ranked UCF a top college in Florida for LGBTQ+ students for services provided by LGTQ+ Services, which connects students with community mentors and resources, developed 20 gender-neutral restrooms on campus and houses the Lavender Council, a student advisory committee that promotes services for the community.

The university also offers several mentorship programs, including:

• The Alliance Mentoring Program pairs LGBTQ+ students with LGBTQ+ faculty and staff to create goals toward professional development.

• CREAR Futuros partners first-year Latino/a/x students with highly trained upper-classmen who introduce them to campus resources and offer insight into how to achieve academic success.

• Girls Exceling in Math and Science (GEMS) provides designated female STEM students with female mentors to guarantee a smooth transition from high school to college.

• The LEGACY Leadership and Mentoring Program provides first-year Black students with Black faculty and staff mentors to help them acquire the knowledge and skills to be effective students and leaders.

Continuing to Improve

While the university has made many strides to make sure everyone feels welcome and supported, there’s always room to improve.

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Earlier this spring, UCF conducted a Campus Climate Survey to help inform how to build a more inclusive community together. As a result, Interim Chief Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Officer S. Kent Butler has been leading virtual conversations to help inform the creation of the university’s action plan for equity, inclusion and diversity.

“UCF is at the forefront of diversity and inclusion in higher education, but we need to continue broadening our efforts,” says Butler, who is also a professor of counselor education. “With the Climate Survey and the HEED Award, we’re putting our money where our mouth is and taking proactive measures to elicit change. From a social justice standpoint, we are looking to do more and recognize that we will not be rewarded for complacency.”

Upcoming initiatives range from developing new hiring practices and advisory boards to incorporating additions in the university’s overall budget and strategic plan.

This summer, President Cartwright announced the university was reallocating 3 percent of each college’s and division’s budget to create a new Strategic Investment Fund, focused partly on providing an inclusive culture through the university.

He also announced that the university’s chief equity, inclusion and diversity officer position will be elevated to a vice president position.

Leaders from human resources, institutional equity and faculty excellence are working to increase best practices among job searches, including creating extensive training on diversifying recruitment and requiring specific training for everyone who serves on a search committee.

The university has also created or is in the process of creating several advisory boards, including the President’s Student Advisory Council, which will include 12 student representatives to advise President Cartwright on building a more inclusive culture at UCF; the Chief Diversity, Inclusion and Equity’s Student Advisory Council, for which the criteria is currently being developed; and the UCF Content Advisory Board, which includes 15 faculty, staff, students and alumni who provide feedback on and ideas for UCF Today, Pegasus magazine, the university’s main social media channels and marketing materials.

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